By ADRIENNE ZULUETA and LEE FERRAN
The U.S. military spent $5.4 million on an incinerator facility in Afghanistan that burned only taxpayer money before being torn down for scrap, according to a recent inspector general report.
The costly incinerators, installed at a now-closed military base in Sharana, Afghanistan, were meant to help dispose of some 24 tons of solid waste per day at the base but were never turned on.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in its report Monday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) paid a contractor based in Denver for the incinerators, but the project experienced "significant construction delays," "electrical supply problems that could pose safety hazards" and the incinerators were positioned so that even if they were turned on, the waste would have to be manually loaded and unloaded - meaning they would be able to handle only 80 percent of the target capacity.
"…$5.4 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars could have been put to better use," the SIGAR report states.
Previously, the base was using open-air burn pits to process its waste. According to USACE, the new incinerators were meant to combat possible health hazards stemming from the emissions of the pits.
The incinerator project was originally supposed to be completed in August 2010, but the facility wasn't turned over to Forward Operating Base Sharana until December 2012. SIGAR found a majority of the reasons for the delays were not documented. SIGAR also said the incinerators were also never fully tested before money changed hands.
"SIGAR has previously raised concerns regarding instances in which USACE failed to hold its contractors accountable for not accomplishing work they were paid to perform," the SIGAR report states. "SIGAR continues to believe that USACE must take immediate action to hold contractors accountable when they fail to deliver on their contractual commitments."
SIGAR's report included a response from USACE, which said that while USACE agreed to conduct an inquiry into the matter, it found that the facility was "constructed in accordance with contract technical specifications, proper testing and training occurred in or about September 2012, and an operable facility was turned over to our U.S. military customer in December 2012." No action, it said, would be taken against any of the contracting agents involved.
SIGAR, in turn, disagreed with USACE's statement, questioning the "thoroughness of USACE's assessment."
Two months ago, the Sharana military base closed and the entire facility, including the incinerators, was turned over to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. SIGAR said according to U.S. military officials, the incinerators have been deconstructed by Afghans, "presumably for scrap."